It was near midnight on Friday, July 14, and the blue and red lights chased each other across the intersection in a delirious rotation. The cause of the hustle was a blue SUV that lay on its side like a tin mailbox that had been kicked down the street and crushed. Next to it, a police cruiser and an ambulance splayed their spotlights on the scene.
Feeling an injection of purpose, Brett straightened his uniform. Starched black pants. Heavy black boots. A duty belt. A short-sleeve button-front shirt emblazoned with a round, four-inch patch that read "Paramedic: Denver Health." He quickened his step as he saw two paramedics lifting a woman into the ambulance. He saw another woman on a flat board, but determined that her injuries weren't serious. Deciding the situation was stable, he started back toward Sean's Mustang parked down the street. He felt proud to be associated with such an honorable profession. Emergency medical technicians are like soldiers whose sole mission is not to hurt but to help, and that's who Brett is: someone who helps.
But then a flashlight was shining in his face. And questions: What's your name? What shift do you work? Brett made it to Sean's car and told his buddy to get ready to hit the gas. "Go, go, go," he muttered urgently. "Go!" But Sean refused. Meanwhile, the paramedic supervisor came up to the car and continued his verbal barrage. Where's your ID badge? Normally, Brett was good at quick, on-the-fly responses. But all of his authority and confidence melted away as the flashlight beam pushed harder. Desperately, he reached for the official Denver Health Medical Center handheld radio sitting on Sean's dashboard. He turned it on, as if to prove his legitimacy. The supervisor was unconvinced.
"You know what --" Brett began to say, suddenly feeling stricken. His eyes darted between his best friend and the supervisor. There was no way out of this, except for one last option.
As Brett's boots pounded against the asphalt, he could hear Sean's girlfriend grappling with the supervisor, who shouted angrily after him. He knew running wasn't really an option, just a hopeless alternative dressed up like a sound decision; another audacious, dunderhead mistake outfitted like a real choice. Still, Brett darted into the darkness, sirens tumbling through his skull -- once again a man of importance, a good guy in a uniform, running.
It was just another afternoon, flinging lunchmeat.
Brett Allen Andrews excavated exactly four withered meatballs from the warming container and balanced them carefully on the bread. Choices included white, wheat, Italian or honey oat. Would you like this toasted? Pickles, onions, lettuce? Any salt, pepper, vinegar, oil? Subway poster boy Jared Fogle might have trimmed the equivalent of a small heifer from his waistline by sucking down two subs a day, but the working-class clientele that made up the lunch rush at the 4696 South Broadway store wanted every black olive coming their way.
Brett had worked at Subway stores around Denver since he was twenty years old. By June, he was 22 -- which meant a lot of shifts wearing the black Subway hat, dark-green Subway polo shirt, black cargo pants and cellophane gloves that he removed each time he had to work the register. (Meatball Marinara six-incher: $2.99 plus tax.) At five feet, six inches, he didn't consider himself a tall man, but his build was muscular and scrappy. Combine this with the hair germinating on his chin and the tight angles of his face, and at first glance he appeared thuggish and stone-faced. An ass-kicker. But that impression disappeared at the sound of his voice -- high, with the slightest hint of effeminacy, and a curiously rural drawl despite his having been born and raised within the inner suburbs of Denver. He was often cracking jokes -- mostly good-natured, self-deprecating attempts at making friends and sparking conversation -- and his laugh was gleeful and nasal, like a chuckle with a souped-up Honda engine.
One of his co-workers, Megan Thull, lived with her parents only seven blocks away. At nineteen, she still carried the disaffected mannerisms of a bored teen who isn't going to feign enthusiasm for yet another Cold Cut Combo. She thought Brett was a really nice guy. In contrast to other, bitter fast-food workers, he was always in a good mood and polite. But then, it wasn't like the Subway gig was his whole life. It was just for extra spending cash, he'd told her. His main profession, as an EMT, was his life's true passion. She could tell; he talked about it all the time, and she'd seen him and his friend Sean in uniform. She'd also heard Brett brag about his father, Fred Andrews, a Vietnam-era Navy SEAL and retired Englewood police officer.
From the front window of this Englewood Subway, Brett could look across the street and see his dad's house around the corner. The small, two-bedroom cinder-block unit has bars on all the windows. An American flag hangs up front, and a carport juts off the back toward Broadway, one of the main drags he used to patrol. Inside, Fred Andrews sits in an old recliner, staring off into space, slowly tapping the heel of his right foot on the carpet. Organized on the ottoman in front of him for constant, easy access is the remote control and three cereal bowls. The first is filled with Lemonheads, the second with Jolly Ranchers, and the third with pistachios. If the phone rings, it will ring at least half a dozen times before he answers it by shouting unintelligibly into the receiver. Brett explained to Megan and other friends how his father's condition was the result of being shot twice in the line of duty as a cop, once in the leg and once in the lower back. It happened when Brett was in elementary school; his parents divorced soon after. The doctors said Brett's father was going to be paralyzed for the rest of his life, but he was a tough ol' sonofabitch and went into rehab and got back on his feet. Less than a year into his recovery, however, Fred Andrews suffered a minor stroke. This was followed by more heart attacks over the next decade. Each bout was a little more difficult to recuperate from, slurring his speech, his motor control, his memory.
Fred Andrews walks slowly now, at barely beyond a shuffle, and uses a walker for support. When he speaks, it's as if he's trying to force the sounds out of his mouth at gunpoint, and his words seem to jump unintentionally from timid to hostile.
Although Brett lived with his mother, Joetta Bailey, in the Mar Lee neighborhood in southwest Denver, he visited his dad almost daily, shopped for him and helped clean his house. But Fred Andrews's biggest problems were his health issues, and there was nothing his son could do to help with those. Because Brett had absolutely no medical training.
He'd never even taken a first-aid class.
To say that Brett chose an unconventional career path for becoming an EMT would be the understatement of the year. It began this past January, when Sean Milow came over to Brett's mom's house with a couple of paramedic uniforms and two actual DHMC paramedic radios. The two friends had known each other since their days at South High School and had become closer in recent years, sometimes getting in trouble together -- like the time in 2002 that they were ticketed for violation of grounds curfew at Ruby Hill Park. Both share a propensity for driving fast and have acquired numerous speeding and motor-vehicle violations over the past three years. But 23-year-old Sean's main pursuit is getting chicks, his friends say. On the dating website www.plentyoffish.com, he's posted a profile with the title "Looking for a good moman." He lists his interests as "camping and 4 wheeling" and his occupation as "demolition."
"I am looking for a woman that does not play games and treats me the way they want to be treated," he writes.
And it's no secret that ladies like a man in uniform.
Official uniforms for firefighters, police officers and paramedics are easily found online, as are accessories for public-safety personnel such as belts, boots, flashlights and bags; eBay lists dozens of Denver Health paramedic patches at $1.50 each. Brett says Sean never told him where he got the uniforms, just that he couldn't keep them at his own home for fear that his parents might find them. So they shut the door to Brett's bedroom and tried on the outfits, which were both the same size. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, Sean had a much better fit than Brett.
Brett hid the uniforms and radios in his closet, taking them out occasionally to try on before hiding them again.
"If my mom was to ever find those things, she would flip," he says. "She would grab it and burn it. She's like that. Because my mom, she was trying to keep me out of trouble."
One day while his mom was at work, Brett stepped onto the front porch fully clad in an EMT uniform. The radio attached to his belt crackled with static and the voices of dispatchers as he walked down the street of modest homes all the way to a large Latino supermarket on South Federal Boulevard. He noticed that everyone he encountered looked at him differently. Nobody was calling him a dumbass or, even worse, glancing right past him like he was just some loser. At the store, other customers made eye contact with him and seemed to nod in admiration, like he was famous or something. He bought some food, and the cashier even called him "Sir."
"And I'm like, 'Wow, this is pretty cool,'" Brett remembers. "It felt good."
So good, in fact, that he and Sean started taking regular outings in their paramedic gear. But it's not like they were actually pretending to be EMTs.
"We just wore the uniforms," Brett says. "I started to think, 'If I put on this uniform, maybe I could, you know, look cool. Maybe I can fit in, basically.'" They weren't trying to save anybody or be heroes. Their ambitions were much more basic: They wanted to impress girls. Maxim Show Club, a topless cabaret on South Santa Fe Drive, soon became a main hangout for the two pretend paramedics. Formerly the Paper Tiger, the joint was revamped last October by new owners, who installed a much more upscale interior along with younger dancers in hopes of snagging a more upscale and professional clientele. They got more than they bargained for with Brett and Sean. Maxim's manager, Curby Kielman, distinctly remembers the duo coming in regularly throughout the spring, several times a week, sometimes staying for upwards of four hours. Often they'd be wearing paramedic uniforms and leave their radios out on top of the table, as if prepared to take off on an important call. They might sit near the stage, placing dollar bills in the elastic of a dancer's thong, or sit at the bar watching football, chatting it up with anyone and everyone within earshot, like excited schoolboys on a field trip.
"I never thought anything about them," Kielman says, "except that they're strange as shit."
The uniforms seemed to give the pair a heightened sense of self-importance. "They'd come up to you and act like they were your best friend," he recalls. "Just their mannerisms were weird." Once, Sean gave the manager a lengthy account of how he was going to Arizona to visit his grandmother, while Kielman just sat there and thought, Why the hell are you telling me this?
Brett wasn't listening, or even paying attention to the almost-naked bodies gyrating in front of him. He was thinking about Karrissa Sparks.
They'd met the year before, when Sean showed up at Subway to give Brett a ride home; Karrissa and another female friend were in the back of Sean's red 1986 Mustang. Karrissa had large, sad eyes and soft, pretty features that Brett found attractive -- but the nineteen-year-old also had a boyfriend. In late March, though, she called Sean and asked for help getting her things out of her boyfriend's apartment because he had become abusive. Sean called Brett and explained the situation. When Sean showed up at Brett's house, he was wearing a blue polo shirt with a logo in the shape of a badge and the words "Denver Police." Brett grabbed his paramedic uniform, and they headed to the scene in Brett's Jeep. As they got out of the vehicle, Brett saw that the Velcro duty belt he'd given Sean barely fit around his friend's waist.
"Are you actually going to wear that?" Brett laughed, while handing over his Mag-Lite flashlight. When they got to the apartment door, Sean pounded on it with his fist.
Boom, boom, boom.
The boyfriend opened the door, looked at the badge printed on Sean's shirt and muttered, "Oh, shit!" Then he looked at Brett. "There's nobody hurt," he said.
Brett explained that they were friends of Karrissa's. "Have you hit her?" he asked.
"Stand back now before I have to call for backup," Sean ordered, poking the boyfriend in the chest with the Mag-Lite. The boyfriend complied, and the do-gooders helped a crying Karrissa pack up her belongings and stow them in Brett's Jeep. Sean told Brett to drop him off at his car so he could go to Maxim. After that, Brett drove Karrissa to a friend's house and helped her unpack.
"Thanks for helping me," she said.
Brett could tell that she was really grateful. It was nothing, he said. "I don't want that guy to hit you or nothing." Karrissa gave him a big hug. He told her to call him any time she needed help.
Meanwhile, over at Maxim, Kielman says he saw Sean living it up at the bar, as always. But eventually, he noticed something different about the guy's shirt.
Kielman never got a straight answer.
The badge was what impressed Brett. He'd never seen one like it before. It wasn't a Denver Police Department badge. It was big, with a shield at the top and weird gold-leaf designs coming down the sides, and it had one of those foldable leather cases that the detectives on cop shows are always flipping open. That's how he remembers it, at least.
In 2001, sixteen-year-old Brett had put a post on a Yahoo Internet chat room, titled "Electronic Devices in Colorado," about police scanners. That's when Mark had messaged back, saying that he was a cop. Brett told Mark that he wanted to listen to a scanner because his dad used to be an officer and his older brother, Brian, was a police cadet, but the DPD had recently gotten a new system that rendered all old scanners useless. Mark said he could help him out and gave him his address, which was only half a mile from Brett's mom's house.
Brett was still attending South, at a time he describes as "the greatest years of my life." Officially, he was supposed to go to John F. Kennedy High School, but he'd been expelled freshman year after being accused of making bomb threats to the school. Brett denies making the threats, but he spent three months in juvenile detention and did a year of probation. "It was a misdemeanor," he adds. "It was nothing serious."
At South he took a web-page design course and a keyboard typing class, where he says he learned to crank out over 100 words a minute. During lunch he sold cookies that were baked by the home-economics students as a school fundraiser. "I'd be out there in my little cart and be like, 'Cookies, three dollars!'" After cookies, Brett would run up to the music room for band rehearsal. He was in marching band, orchestra band and jazz band. "I busted it out," he says with pride.
A whiz at computers, too, Brett was teaching himself programming, networking and how to repair hardware with mini-soldering tools. On a shelf in his bedroom, he had a collection of walkie-talkies and other radios. But he'd never seen anything like the radio Mark now showed him. It was heavy, like a brick, with large batteries and an antenna extending from the top.
"Police use these?" he asked, pushing a button on the side to switch through the channels.
"Yup," Mark replied. He said he'd sell it for $300.
Sweet! Only Brett didn't have $300. So he went over to his dad's house and told him he needed three bills for school supplies.
His dad took out his wallet and handed Brett the money. After he purchased the radio, Brett took it home and listened to police talk. He asked his brother what a "Code Five" was. Brian wondered why he wanted to know; Brett showed him the transmitter.
"You'd better not get caught with that," Brian cautioned. "You'd get in some deep shit."
"Caught?" Brett replied. "I'm only listening to it. I'm not doing nothing."
But it wasn't long before Brett was doing more than nothing. Bored in his room one afternoon, he was messing with some buttons when one responded: Boop.
"Go ahead," said a voice from the box.
Even though he could listen in on the action, the radio didn't seem connected with the DPD's main computer system. Brett went over to Mark's house, told him the radio wasn't operating properly, and borrowed some cables and an adapter box that Brett could hook up to his laptop with special software to diagnose the problem.
"But don't unlock the channels," Mark warned.
He wouldn't even think of it, Brett promised.
Back in his bedroom, Brett unlocked the channels one by one. The software was amazing. Suddenly his laptop was like a fully functioning law enforcement command center. He'd listened to police conversations long enough to feel comfortable with the lingo, and now he pretended to be a fictitious patrol officer by the name of Jerry Martinez. He started out by telling dispatch that he was "out of service," meaning that he was off-duty, and asked to clear license plates that he thought were suspicious.
"Four-Five-Nine-John-Henry-Doreen," he'd read into the radio.
"Stand by," the voice would say. "It reads back to a house off of Kentucky and Irving. The car's Code Four."
Brett knew that Code Four meant everything came up clear.
"Okay, thank you," he'd say, always sure to be polite.
"GAAA-DAMM!" his dad yelled, while still giving his son the bills.
In early 2001, talking on the radio to police dispatch became so routine that on March 19, Brett even called in a hit-and-run accident near his home at West Jewell Avenue. He told the dispatcher that he was tailing the suspect at a high rate of speed, prompting the DPD to send several patrol cars into the area with sirens and lights blaring. When they arrived, they found no crash. Afterward, the teenager reprogrammed his radio number so that the dispatcher wouldn't be able to identify future transmissions.
One night, Brett was lying in bed when he heard the distant thump of a helicopter. He turned on the radio and heard the pilots of the police copter discussing their flight pattern. He utilized the radio's I-call function -- he says it allows you to speak radio-to-radio -- and asked the pilots how they were doing.
"Oh, just burning holes in the sky."
He asked the helicopter to do a flyby of Sanderson Gulch Park to look for graffiti taggers. It wasn't long before Brett saw a spotlight swoop directly above his house and heard the roar of the helicopter heading toward the park down the street. "Holy shit," he thought.
But the police knew something was amiss. The strange helicopter incident was one thing, and then there was the fact that Jerry Martinez always seemed to mispronounce other officers' names. They started an investigation and got ready for the next time Officer Martinez punched in.
In April, Brett's maternal grandfather passed away. He and Brett's grandmother had lived in the neighborhood, and Brett's mother was devastated. Brett's uncle returned to town for the funeral. The next day, Brett showed him the police radio.
"What are you doing with that?" he shouted. But the uncle loosened up when Brett started demonstrating how he could check license-plate numbers of the cars in front of his grandparents' house. "There's no record found," returned the dispatcher. "What's your location?"
Something wasn't right; they were trying to keep him on the line. Brett realized the cops were on to him.
"You'd better make some shit up now and throw that motherfucker away," his uncle said.
Brett pushed the button and responded, "I'm at Federal and Louisiana." In the distance, they saw a helicopter zooming toward the intersection a half-mile away.
Brett's uncle turned to him and said simply, "Throw it away. Get rid of it. Now."
Brett ran home. His mom was there, and so was Brett's stepdad. The two had never really gotten along. But on this day, for some reason, the stepdad was trying to be all buddy-buddy. Unlike his mom, his stepdad knew that Brett had the radio, and he asked him to call in the license-plate number of the car across the street.
"I think it's stolen," he explained.
Brett was unsure. The cops were, like, looking for him.
"C'mon," said his stepdad. "Quit being a pussy."
Pretty soon, they were both standing in the middle of the street while Brett read the plate number into the radio.
"Please stand by." They stood by. Then the dispatcher said the plates were registered to a wanted individual who was armed and dangerous, and kept Brett on the line, periodically giving him instructions to wait. After an hour and a half, he was getting sick of standing in the street. The only car that showed up was an old white Chevy with antennas and a spotlight mounted to the body.
"Look at this guy," Brett laughed. "He's trying to be a cop or something. What a fucking retard."
Finally, Brett gave up and went inside. He was at his desk, typing up a paper for school, when he saw a strange number flash across the screen of the police radio. Turning up the volume, he heard the dispatcher he'd talked with earlier ordering patrol cars to a residential address -- his address.
"Perpetrator is a male in his mid-teens, wearing a yellow T-shirt and blue jeans."
Brett looked down at what he was wearing; it was all there. He was the perp. He changed into a different outfit and put his radio in its secret place in the closet. By the time he opened his bedroom door, the cops were already in the front yard. The FCC agent was there, too. Sweating, he'd spent the day circling southwest Denver with the same equipment the commission uses to zero in on pirate-radio stations. The agent stomped into the living room, bellowing, "We have you now, you little bastard!"
But they didn't have him. A search of Brett's bedroom turned up only the walkie-talkies on his shelf. They confiscated the legal radios and issued Brett's confused mother a receipt for the items, then warned the boy that he was still under investigation. After they left, Brett spent the night listening to his mother cry and his stepdad scream about how the cops had bugged the house.
The next day, May 1, Brett got a call from Mark -- later identified in news reports as "a police informant" -- telling Brett that he'd lost the software for his police radio and that the channels were all locked up. He offered the teen $2,000 to come reprogram it for him.
"Hell, yeah, I'll do it," Brett said. But since he was supposed to eat lunch with his dad, he had to make some odd plans. He felt like he was trapped in the paranoid scene in GoodFellas, where Ray Liotta has to move guns and bags of cocaine across town while being observed by the FBI. The only difference was that the contraband Brett was smuggling was the all-hearing ear of police surveillance.
Sensing correctly that he was being watched, Brett transferred the software from his laptop to the computer at his grandmother's, then went to his dad's and got his truck. He took his dad with him when he went to pick up Mark's radio, then returned to his grandmother's and unlocked the channels on the device. His grandmother offered Brett cherry pie, but he declined. Then Brett returned the radio to Mark, who complained that it was not transmitting properly. With his father still in the car, Brett returned to his grandmother's and re-reprogrammed the radio. She again offered him cherry pie; this time he accepted. "Thanks, Grandma."
Heading back to Mark's, Brett -- who was still driving under a learner's permit -- was speeding so fast that the brakes on the truck began smoking and his dad's soda spilled everywhere. But then Mark gave Brett an envelope containing $2,000, and Brett told his father that he would buy lunch. Everyone was happy.
Brett got barely two blocks before a swarm of unmarked police cars surrounded his truck.
"I think we've just been set up, Dad," he told his father, who had no idea what was happening. Brett pulled over and obeyed an officer's orders to toss the keys from the vehicle. Brett was torn from the truck and handcuffed. He watched as other officers yanked his father from the automobile, threw the disabled man to the ground and handcuffed him. His father had a hard time getting back up, so the police had to lift him into the cop car.
Brett looked into the sky and saw the police helicopter hovering low above them. He wondered what they were saying.
Brett was charged with over a dozen felony and misdemeanor counts, including impersonating a police officer, wiretapping, eavesdropping and making false reports. News of his escapades ran in papers across the country. But because he was underage, Brett's name was never released to the media, even as the case made its way through court.
It was a tremendously embarrassing -- and terrifying -- experience for the Denver Police Department to have a teenager infiltrate its network for so long before being detected. "This is an officer-safety issue, a public-safety issue," Deputy Police Chief of Operations Dave Abrams told a reporter at the time. "You can't have someone out there broadcasting emergency calls; the potential is frightening. This kid had the ability to wreak havoc with our communications system."
Things looked even worse for Brett after it was revealed that he'd been stopped in Littleton for impersonating a police officer just a month before. On April 6, 2001, Brett had a police jacket in his possession and was driving around with the radio in his father's truck, which was equipped with emergency lights. When another driver pissed him off, he attempted to pull the man over, but the motorist drove home and called the Littleton Police Department. When the Littleton cops caught up to Brett, the teen reportedly told them he was an off-duty officer, but then burst into tears and admitted he had made the whole thing up. That time, he was let off with a ticket.
But with DPD deputy chief Steve Cooper showing up personally at Brett's hearing to demand that the wannabe cop be punished severely, the situation in Denver looked grim.
Luckily for Brett, his grandmother decided that they needed to get him a good lawyer and spent $10,000 securing an attorney. The lawyer managed to get the charges reduced, and Brett wound up serving just six months in the Division of Youth Corrections and two years' probation. He was out in time to finish his senior year at South, but it would not be his last run-in with police.
After graduation, Brett got a job with Federal Express at Denver International Airport. He worked long hours, but made good money and enjoyed it. Management even offered him a position at Fed Ex's hub in Memphis, but he was reluctant to move away from his family.
Commuting to the airport, Brett racked up enough speeding tickets to lose his license. He continued driving without it. So when he was pulled over in Clear Creek County in the fall of 2003, Brett told the officer that he had misplaced his license and gave the name of one of his friends, Armondo Sandendo Martinez. He was pulled over for speeding in Wheat Ridge on October 21, 2003, and gave the officer the same fake name. But by now the real Armondo Sandendo Martinez was in trouble with the law, and there was an outstanding arrest warrant for that name. Brett was arrested and later bailed out by his dad, still under the fake name. He used it again when he signed the bond papers. After Wheat Ridge figured out what was going on, Brett was charged with felony fraud, criminal impersonation and forgery on a government-issued document. He pleaded guilty and was given probation and six months' work release.
On February, 12, 2004, Brett was in Five Points, driving to a friend's house, when he was pulled over on a license-plate violation. The officer took down Brett's information and walked back to his patrol car to run the information. Brett got out of his Jeep, wanting to explain to the cop that he was on probation. The officer got agitated and hit him in the head, Brett says, and during the scuffle that followed, the officer's duty belt fell off and the holster was damaged. A police report on the incident, however, describes Brett as confronting the officer and later kicking him and pulling on his gun and nearly separating the holster from the belt.
"But I'm not that crazy," Brett says. "I was just trying to get him off me."
And once he did, he ran.
Police caught him hiding inside his friend's apartment. He was charged with attempted disarming of a police officer and second-degree assault, which earned him five months in jail and almost two years in a halfway house. It was during this time that his then-fiancée, Jessica, gave birth to Brett's son. Jessica dumped him not long after, though, and Brett's parental rights were ultimately terminated. The jail stint also cost Brett his job at the airport. When he was finally moved to work release in late 2004, he started applying for jobs at Subway.
He often put down Sean as a character reference. Since high school, the two had been talking about starting a security agency some day. Brett told his friends Paul and Diana Hickman that they'd be guards.
"Every detail had to be perfect before he would take the first step," Diana remembers. These details included the name of the security agency, the phone number that prospective clients could call, how many employees the agency would have, the specific roles of each position, and even the designs of the uniforms. But after almost two years of planning, the only concrete step that Brett had taken was obtaining two new Nextel walkie-talkies that guards would use to communicate. The radios were kept on the kitchen counter of the Hickmans' home in north Aurora. "He over-thinks very much," says Paul. "I had to sit him down and be like, 'It doesn't have to be that complicated.'"
Though Paul and Diana characterize Brett as a nervous person, they also say he's one of the nicest guys they know. He was always running between his father's house, his mother's and his grandmother's, just to check up on them. Brett got Paul a job at Subway. Then he got Karrissa a job at Subway.
When Karrissa and Brett started dating in April, she thought he was different from every other guy she'd been with. The others were controlling and violent, distant. Brett seemed to open up and share. "He cares about people's emotions and their well-being," she says.
She admits that she's not great at dealing with emotions. Social services removed her from her father's home in California when she was thirteen, and a year later removed her from her mother's home in Montbello. She spent the next few years in a series of mental institutions, homeless shelters and foster homes. The day she graduated from Brighton High School, in 2005, Karrissa's foster mother told her she had to move out. A social worker helped her find an apartment in Capitol Hill, but the teenager barely knew anybody in Denver.
In the year since, she's found work and friendships. She told Brett about her dysfunctional childhood. She figured it would help him understand why the mere whiff of a certain type of stale cologne will throw her into a furious, manic outburst, or why she needs sleeping pills to make it through the bad dreams without kicking and punching the person lying next to her.
But she didn't try too hard to understand what Brett was doing. Why he would dress up like an EMT when he went drinking, for example. "Yeah, those [questions] always popped in my head," she admits now. "ŒWhy are you wearing a paramedic uniform? What's wrong with that? I know you're not a paramedic; why are you wearing it?' He just didn't respond to me. I don't know, I got really confused."
At Dubb's Pub, Brett had no problem talking about life as an EMT. Dubb's is a working-class joint with a taxidermied deer's ass over the bar, skillfully manipulated to look like the head of an apeman, a creature that the equally leathery-faced regulars refer to as "Dubb's Yeti." Mississippi, a bartender, remembers Brett well, since he was often telling stories about the gruesome scenes he'd encountered on his paramedic job that day.
"And I always knew it was bullshit," Mississippi snaps. "We got real nurses, real cops, real EMTs that come in here. You can tell when it's some phony."
She doesn't recall Sean ever showing up in a uniform, but she does remember Sean and Brett singing karaoke several nights a week. Sometimes Brett would sing in uniform. One of his favorite selections was "The Fireman," by country singer George Strait. The first verse goes:
Well they call me the fireman, that's my name.
Making my rounds all over town, putting out old flames
Well everybody'd like to have a what I got.
I can cool 'em down when they're smold'ring hot.
I'm the fireman, that's my name.
In May, Brett finally did his time for giving a fake name in Clear Creek County, serving 35 days in jail. After he was released, Karrissa noticed that he was spending less time with her and more time with Sean. She didn't like it. When it was just the two of them, Brett was so much more relaxed. "Because he didn't have to impress me, he didn't have to impress other people," she says. "We did what we wanted to do, and we didn't have to worry about what other people were thinking."
But with Sean, there was always this competitive push for better cars, better toys, better jobs and better girlfriends. On July 4, Karrissa was supposed to watch fireworks with Brett at his mom's house, but he never called. She found out later that he'd been at a hotel party the whole night with Sean and Megan, his Subway co-worker. The next evening, July 5, Karrissa and Brett had planned to see the hardcore band Disturbed at Coors Amphitheatre. Brett took Sean instead.
Karrissa decided to give Brett another chance. On the night of July 14, he called and said he was coming over to visit. Brett wanted to see Karrissa, but he didn't want to spend the night because he had to work the 5 a.m. shift at Subway the next morning, so he planned to tell her he had to go work at Denver Health that night. He was wearing his EMT uniform, sitting in Sean's Mustang along with a nineteen-year-old girl Sean had met a week before, when they came across an accident on East Evans Avenue. Sean stopped the car, and Brett jumped out to take a look.
EMS Captain Robert Loop was working the south side of the city on July 14 when he heard the call for a dispatch to a car accident at the intersection of East Evans and South Monroe. Denver Health has nine EMS captains strategically deployed throughout the city; their job is to monitor radios and respond to calls, then provide assistance until the Denver Fire Department or an ambulance arrives.
Emergency personnel are trained to move quickly and efficiently in such situations, working in concert. But as Loop and two other paramedics attended to the victims of the crash, Loop realized that there was one man in a white shirt whom he didn't recognize, walking around the crash site. Occasionally a paramedic driving to or from work might happen on the scene of an accident, but it's very peculiar to see a paramedic without a partner and without an ambulance. Then Loop noticed that the guy wasn't wearing an ID badge.
"Hey," he called to the unknown paramedic.
The guy stopped and turned toward him.
"What's your name?" Loop asked.
The guy answered, "Tony Martinez."
Loop didn't recognize the name. Something definitely wasn't right. "Come over here and talk to this officer for a second," Loop said.
The guy started walking down the street toward a car. When Loop followed, asking questions all the while, the guy made it to the car, then took off, running. One of the car's passengers, a tall female with short spiky hair, jumped in front of Loop. He radioed police dispatch about an individual impersonating an EMT.
Brett sprinted behind some houses and turned into an alleyway. He pushed against the shadows, panting heavily. He thought about how he was still on probation and still in this uniform, how he was totally fucked. He took off the paramedic shirt and threw it and the radio in a trash can. He untucked his T-shirt; maybe they wouldn't recognize him. He tried to be nonchalant as he walked out of the alley, like he was a passerby stopping to see the commotion. But as he crossed a lawn, a cop told him to stop. More officers arrived, and they threw Brett on his stomach. He could feel someone's knee in his back and the handcuffs sliding around his wrists.
Later, he was questioned at the police substation. They took his boots, his wallet and his belt. A muscle in Brett's lower back had been severely twisted in the take-down, and he was in excruciating pain.
Then one of the officers said, "The paramedics are here to see you." Brett looked up, terrified. Were they there to help, or punish?
The EMTs strapped Brett to a gurney and put him in an ambulance. As the rig started to rumble down the road, Brett thought about when he was in elementary school and would ride along with his dad in the ambulance after one of his strokes.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Brett lifted his head and saw that the EMTs were staring at him. They were looking at him like he was less than a nobody.
"What are you trying to do?" a paramedic asked. "Imitate us?"
An IV was poked into Brett's arm.
When they arrived at Denver Health, it was well into the witching hour, and all the horror cases were coming in. The paramedics stuck Brett in the hallway, where he sat for hours, his IV bleeding all over his arm. When he asked for a drink of water, everyone ignored him.
Brett started to notice the other patients being wheeled into the hospital. One guy who sat down next to Brett had a gash deep in his head and blood flowing down his face. He heard some other woman screaming about whether her boyfriend was okay. Brett felt like the whole room was pushing in on his lungs. He could never be a paramedic, he realized. He couldn't handle it.
"I never thought about actually being a paramedic or going out there and trying to help people like that," he says. "Because even when I was in the hospital watching people come in, it was scary. People coming in with blood all over their head. I couldn't believe it. It was scary. The whole thing was scary."
Finally, Brett was booked under charges of impersonating an EMT and theft by receiving. For the rest of the next night, he couldn't get that woman's screams out of his head.
After a few weeks in the jail's general population, Brett was moved into the more secure lockdown unit for reasons he doesn't know. He guesses it was because jail officials finally took a look at his criminal record with all the previous arrests for criminal impersonation and decided that he was a high-risk inmate. But as he mixes with prisoners who are locked up on charges of murder or robbery, Brett points out that he didn't play impostor in order to hurt anyone or steal from anyone. He doesn't think of himself as a criminal -- although with ten to fifteen years hanging over his head, it's hard not to feel like one.
His mom came to visit him, which was a relief -- even if they had to talk over a television monitor. She said she wasn't going to disown him, but that she was tired. She didn't want to deal with any more of his shenanigans. Brett hasn't seen his father; he worries that he'll pass away while he's in jail. Brett's friends think that trying to live up to his father's military and law-enforcement records may have fueled his need to pretend he was something he's not.
"I think that Brett just has so many regrets about not being able to live up to his expectations," Diana Hickman offers. "When you ask someone who they turn to for help, the first things out of their mouth is the police, paramedics, the fire department, security guards. There's a title and prestige there. And if you turn around and say, 'Oh, I work for Subway,' it's not as important. I don't really think he was trying to impersonate them. He was just wearing the uniform."
The Englewood Police Department has no record of Fred Andrews ever serving as a police officer. Nor does the U.S. Navy have any record of him operating as a Navy SEAL.
Sean insists that he never wore a uniform himself, and says he actually thought Brett was an EMT, a claim he has also detailed in a police statement. "I figured it was a second job to keep his finances coming in," he says. "I don't know. I think honestly it was a way for him to get girls."
At his preliminary hearing on August 16, Brett stood before the judge wearing a pine-green Denver County Jail jumpsuit. In exchange for Brett waiving his right to a preliminary hearing, the prosecution agreed to drop the three-strikes-you're-out felony sentencing charge, which would have allowed a judge to impose up to a 25-year sentence. Brett looked relieved; he says he's anxious to get out and do something with his life. During phone calls with Karrissa, he's told her that he loves her and wants to marry her, that he wants to grow up and stop making such immature decisions.
Brett will be back in court for another arraignment on September 7. But he's looking beyond that, to the day when he gets out of jail and can get on with life -- maybe outside of Colorado.
"As bad as it sounds, moving somewhere where nobody knows you," he says. "I think that might be another thing I have in mind. You can reinvent yourself."
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